There’s nothing worse than losing a pet, and the thought of a beloved animal being alone in an unfamiliar or even dangerous place is one that no pet owner can bare. Most of us would give anything — even risk our lives — to protect our furry friends.
That’s why a California woman who lost her two dogs amidst the chaos of a natural disaster enlisted the help of a local hero to search for her pets after the crisis had passed. But when the rescuer started her search, not even she was prepared for what she found…
In November of 2018, the most destructive wildfire in California history ripped through the Golden State, decimating everything in its path. The blaze, known as the Camp Fire, destroyed 153,336 acres of land and caused between $7.5-$10 billion dollars in damages.
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The Camp Fire was also the deadliest in the state’s history and the sixth-deadliest U.S. wildfire overall. After scouring the rubble of the almost 19,000 buildings and structures consumed by the fire, authorities reported a staggering 86 casualties.
Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times
Of the communities ravaged by the blaze, however, none were more affected than the town of Paradise. All 27,000 residents were evacuated from their homes as the fire proceeded to destroy 95 percent of all buildings in the community.
During the mad dash to escape the flames, the citizens of Paradise had little time to gather their possessions. Yet while the choice made by many to leave behind clothes, furniture, and even cars was surely a difficult one, there were others forced to sacrifice far more than just their valuables…
For Andrea Gaylord, the decision to abandon the home that had been in her family for ten generations was one of the hardest she’d ever made. But even as she watched as the century-old home went up in flames, something else made her heart ache more.
As the Camp Fire made its way through Paradise, Andrea’s guard dogs, Madison and Miguel, had taken off and vanished without a trace. Though she and her husband had searched tirelessly for their beloved pets, the encroaching blaze forced the couple to flee, leaving the fate of the dogs unknown.
Andrea and her husband fled to a nearby shelter, where, alongside hundreds of other evacuees, they waited for the fire to be extinguished. All the while, thoughts of Madison and Miguel never left her mind.
Finally, after 17 days of non-stop firefighting, the raging Camp Fire blaze was contained. Like her fellow Paradise residents, Andrea was eager to return home, hoping somehow her dogs had survived. But when she and her husband attempted to leave the shelter, they were told that Paradise was still too unsafe to return to.
That’s when she contacted Shayla Sullivan of K9 Paw Print Rescue, who had actively been rescuing lost pets from areas affected by the Camp Fire. After learning of the situation, Shayla vowed to do whatever she could to reunite Andrea with Madison and Miguel.
Shayla Sullivan / Facebook
However, as soon as Shayla began her search, she received word of a dog matching Madison’s and Miguel’s descriptions wandering through the small city of Citrus Heights near Sacramento. The city was 85 miles south of Paradise.
Shayla drove down there, and when she arrived, she was stunned to find the dog described to her was, in fact, Miguel! Unbelievably, the dog had traveled from Andrea’s home in Paradise and had been picked up by another local rescue organization.
Andrea was overjoyed when she heard the news about Miguel, but Shayla wasn’t satisfied with finding just one of the two pooches. And so, loading up her car once more, Shayla headed for Paradise.
The roads were barely navigable as Shayla made her way through the once-vibrant town, a graveyard of charred homes and vehicles peering out at her from beneath the ashes of burnt treetops. Forget dogs for a second: with so much destruction, was it possible anything could’ve survived out here?
Upon reaching Andrea’s burned-down property, however, Shayla got her answer. As she surveyed the scorched earth, Shayla noticed movement in the pile of rubble that was once the hundred-year-old home. She approached, her heart beating wildly…
It was Madison! Apparently, the faithful guard dog had returned after the fire had been extinguished and was now sitting watch of his former home! But even with the dog alive and well, there was still one challenge that Shayla would have to face.
Being that Madison was no lover of strangers, the wary dog immediately took off when Shayla approached him (some guard dog!). Shayla knew, if she wasn’t able to catch Madison, the dog would surely perish from a lack of food and water. Shayla needed a plan.
So after leaving some fresh water and a bowl of food out for Madison, Shayla returned to Andrea to share the good news and relay her difficulty in catching him. The pair was stumped over the predicament but devised the perfect method for luring the protective pup back home.
Using an article of Andrea’s clothing, Shayla used the smell to calm Madison and draw her back to the property. And when the guard dog returned, he found his owners and brother waiting there for him!
The tearful reunion was marked by excited licks and yelps from Madison, who was then fed a hefty bag of his favorite treat — Wheat Thins. Even in the face of catastrophe, Madison stayed loyal to his family and protected the home at all costs.
In all the destruction, this loyalty was not lost on Andrea. “You are the best dog,” she told Madison through joyful tears. “The best.”